India could soon displace China as a major contributor to the tourism industry in South-east Asia, as the world’s second-largest economy faces a slower-than-expected reopening.
Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the tourism industry in South-east Asia accounted for around 12% of the region’s GDP. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it also provides work for more than 40 million people in the region.
For the past decade or so, Chinese tourists have been a major contributor to the Asean region’s tourism industry. However, official data from four Southeast Asian countries reveals a weak recovery, with at least a 60% drop in the number of Chinese visitors in May compared to the same month in 2019.
Although fewer than China in absolute terms, the number of Indian visitors in Thailand so far this year is only about 14% lower than it was in 2019. For comparison, just 1.38 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2023, whereas 6.28 million came during the first half of 2019.
Indians outnumbered Chinese tourists in Singapore in May, and in the same month, approximately 63,000 Indians traveled to Indonesia, while just slightly more than 64,000 Chinese made the trip.
The Asian Development Bank predicted in May that India could overtake China in “outbound tourism growth” over the next decade, despite the country’s limited number of airports would make international travel more difficult.
Analysts predict that a sustained increase in Indian tourists will prompt a reevaluation of airline capacity, hospitality providers, and tour operators.
In the decade following a pandemic, “India could become the story for tourism,” it said.